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Confusion as McFeely freed after jail order

PRIORY Hall developer Thomas McFeely has been freed from the Bridewell Garda Station -- hours after an order was made to jail him for three months and fine him €1m.

McFeely's lawyers secured a stay on the order which had been made by the President of the High Court over "egregious" contempt of orders and undertakings aimed at completing urgent fire safety works at the Priory Hall apartment complex by November 28.

More than 240 people have been evacuated from the complex in Donaghmede, Co Dublin. McFeely was directed to remain in the court environs yesterday afternoon until he could be committed to prison at 4pm, but was instead taken to the Bridewell Garda Station and locked in a cell there.

Frank Crean, for McFeely, asked the Supreme Court at 3.45pm for a stay on the fine and committal orders pending an appeal. Dublin City Council's lawyer had been informed of the stay application but had said the council was not participating in that matter, the court was told. The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said the court regarded the council's position as "extraordinary" and would grant the stay and directed McFeely's release.

Because of confusion among gardai as to the status of McFeely, he was not produced before the Supreme Court until just after 5pm. The court directed that affidavits be filed within a week to explain what happened.

In the High Court earlier, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said, while McFeely had been ordered off the Priory Hall site two weeks ago, the law "should not be seen to sit by limply while those who defy it walk free and those who seek its protection lose hope".

He was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt there was "a most severe breach" by McFeely of orders and undertakings by the developer, aimed at completing works by November 28.

He fined McFeely €1m, to be paid by March 1, 2012. Given the "unprecedented" level of disrespect shown by McFeely, he also jailed him for three months in Mountjoy Prison and refused a stay on his orders.

He was addressing a court packed with many of the 240 Priory Hall residents, evacuated since mid-October.

They are being housed at a weekly cost of €240,000 to the council.

Mr Justice Kearns said the distress and disruption experienced by the residents has "no parallel in this country in recent times". A statement of affairs from McFeely showed he has "substantial assets" and the court was satisfied he has access to funds.